DNA Research and Understanding Oversold by the Media

We live in an age of remarkable scientific achievement, and almost every day some announcement is made of a new discovery that has been made or a new product that has been invented to better the condition of mankind on the earth. Perhaps no area has seen more rapid growth than man's understanding of his own genetic makeup. Each human being is made up of trillions of cells. Each cell contains a nucleus which has 23 pairs of chromosomes. Each chromosome is packed with thousands of genes. Each gene is a long segment of a molecule called DNA which contains instructions telling the cell what to do and when to do it. The DNA is made up of matched pairs of chemicals called base pairs which are the basic letters of the genetic code.

The media in recent years has been full of articles about what is being done as scientists study DNA. We have all read about new plants that have been produced by controlling and changing the DNA within the plant. Monsanto has developed a soybean that is not affected by the herbicide Roundup. That means a farmer can plant the soybean, spray periodically with Roundup and everything except the soybean will be killed. Strawberries have been developed that had a month long shelf life but did not ship well because of a thin skin.

There has also been a great deal of media attention to diseases that might be able to be cured by making changes in DNA. Virtually any inherited disease or disease that one might inherit a tendency to have could ultimately be cured through DNA research. A recent discovery has shown that a gene called BRAC-1 is linked to breast cancer. The National Center for Human Genome Research is working to identify all 3 billion bits of human genetic code by the year 2005. The idea seems to be prevalent that once this is done, all human diseases with any kind of genetic link will be cured, and there have even been articles saying that death itself will be able to be eliminated once a full understanding and mapping of human DNA is done.

Before going any further we would like to point out that there is no biblical reason why this research should be considered inappropriate. One of my favorite cartoons shows two cavemen walking along through a terrible thunderstorm. One caveman says to the other "It's those crazy scientists and their bows and arrows that are causing all of this crummy weather." No where in the Bible is there a restriction on what man can try to understand and use. Using medicines or techniques to relieve our pain and suffering is encouraged, and in fact Luke was a medical doctor. It is true that science can be put to uses that are immoral and wrong, but so can religion. The question is not what can we try to understand, but rather how are we going to use that information that we do understand?

The problem with DNA research as presented by the media involves a number of misconceptions by the media. First of all it is important to realize that knowing what the DNA code is or identifying the function of the 100,000 genes that are in our makeup does not tell you how things function. If you could name every part in a Boeing 747, would that mean that you know how to fly it? Dr. David Smith at the Mayo Cancer Clinic says "To understand cancer you have to understand not one gene, but how hundreds of genes work in concert." The BRCA-1 gene that has been linked to breast cancer has more than 125 mutant forms. Which of these raises a person's chance for cancer and how that interaction works is not understood. The DNA that is the basis of all of this is made up of structures called proteins. Some proteins do one thing and some another, but it is the DNA itself that spells out what the protein does. How to alter these interactions in a positive way is a long way off. To look for genes for a particular problem before one knows the patterns of inheritance and how the genes working together produce certain characteristics is not good science, but the money angle has pushed many scientists to try and accomplish a cure for a disease without this vital information.

We would like to suggest that one of the messages that all of this research and understanding should convey is how impossible it is for all of this to be possible by chance. Attempting to exclude God's creative wisdom from the initial development of all of our genetic makeup is to ignore an inescapable conclusion. Give me a working car and enough time and I can tell you how it works and what each part contributes to the working of the car. Give me a pile of the ores which the material that made the car came from and ask me the same question and I am lost. Only if I have a working product and the knowledge that an intelligence designed the car can I satisfactorily explain how it works. We have life and we are able to understand how a lot of the parts work. Only if we recognize that intelligence first designed the whole life system to function as a whole can we fully understand its complete operation and what might go wrong with it. I saw a poster one time that said, "If man ever creates life, all it will prove is that it took intelligence to do it the first time."

--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, Mar/Apr98.